Another new book argues Zimbabwe land reform is a success

This evening in London, researchers Joseph Hanlon, Jeanette Manjengwa, and Teresa Smart will be launching their new book, “Zimbabwe takes back its land”, a book that reportedly argues that Zimbabwe’s land reform has been a success, resulting in new farmers being increasingly productive and improving their lives. The London-based SW Radio Africa, started by opposition activists, reports that a protest is being planned over the book (SW Radio Africa refers to it dramatically as a “contentious land-grab book“). Tonight’s launch is the second in London. This has elicited much excitement, particularly among Zimbabweans in the diaspora.

Now, the authors’ conclusions won’t be new to those who follow Zimbabwe closely. After all, several others, including New York Times Johannesburg correspondent Lydia Polgreen (on a reporting trip to Johannesburg) as well as separately, the researchers Ian Scoones and Blasio Mavedzenge have come to similar conclusions in the aftermath of fast track land reform in the country. These journalists and researchers all assert that it is unfair to condemn the fast-track land redistribution in Zimbabwe given that agricultural production has increased substantially over the course of the past decade. A few weeks ago, The Guardian’s Jonathan Steele argues that Mugabe-phobia has obscured the good news from Zimbabwe and that the outside world has been reluctant to give credit where credit is due despite evidence of success in rural areas throughout the country. Nevertheless, even if it is true that agricultural production in Zimbabwe has increased substantially, this alleged success still begs the question, “at what cost?”

I am not suggesting that land reform was unnecessary in the Zimbabwean context. No one can credibly make that argument. And we hope to interview the authors of the new book. However, what this book and some of these articles achieve (whether they want to or not), is to sanitize and trivialize a decade of mayhem. Mugabe the “champion of mass justice” asserted that the redistribution of land in Zimbabwe would serve to redress the wrongs of colonial injustice. Yet, it was conducted in a way that appears to make a mockery of the very notions it supposedly espoused–those of justice, equity and freedom.

While agricultural production may very well have increased in the aftermath of land reform, there have been many problems borne of that chaotic process. Increased agricultural production has not equaled food security in the country and millions continue to rely on food aid from the World Food Program, nor has it resulted in a return to any semblance of rule of law. While the authors mentioned above may think it is enough to credit the Mugabe regime for what they consider to be its agricultural success, it is perhaps more important to think deeply about the processes by which that “success” has been achieved. One can only hope that the authors of the book being launched today have paid due diligence to the fact that the journey to that perceived success has been one fraught with terrible injustice, a lack of equity and close to no freedom for many who remain in the country.


7 thoughts on “Another new book argues Zimbabwe land reform is a success

  1. Allow me to premise the following comment by noting that I have not read Hanson, Manjengwa and Smart’s publication, so I cannot comment on its content or its claims. However, according to the book’s blurb… “Zimbabwe Takes Back its Land offers a more positive and nuanced assessment of land reform in Zimbabwe. It does not minimize the depredations of the Mugabe regime; indeed it stresses that the land reform was organized by liberation war veterans acting against President Mugabe and his cronies and their corruption.” I cannot comment on the book’s claims regarding the return of farmers to previous production levels, but I must say that I struggle to believe such a claim. However, without the proper context of the claim, i.e. whether it is within a specific region or area, or crop, etc. I’d like to contend some broad-brush generalizations made in this article. Such as the following:

    “However, what this book and some of these articles achieve (whether they want to or not), is to sanitize and trivialize a decade of mayhem. Mugabe the “champion of mass justice” asserted that the redistribution of land in Zimbabwe would serve to redress the wrongs of colonial injustice. Yet, it was conducted in a way that appears to make a mockery of the very notions it supposedly espoused–those of justice, equity and freedom.”

    I am not sure as to whether you have read Scoones et al’s work, or that by Cousins, Cliffe, and others, or the Journal of Peasant Studies’ special issue, etc. However, what most of these scholars seek to accomplish is to depose of the simplistic readings that revolve around the condemnation of Mugabe’s regime because of its despotic notions, and to detach the conversation about land reform from . For instance, the premise of Scoones et al’s 2010 book is that rural smallholder farmers have succeeded DESPITE the government, not due to it. However, they note that access to land was a crucial factor in this.

    Nowhere does the book attempt to simplify, or justify, the sociopolitical and economic mayhem that ensued over the period of Mugabe’s FTLRP, nor does it attempt to accredit the success of smallholder farmers within the area studies carried out by the researchers to the ZANU-PF or Mugabe. It does not seek to prop up the regime, nor justify the process of FTLRP, but shed light on the positive changes that have resulted for a significant number of those who obtained land.

    Needless to say, the matter is much more complicated than it has been portrayed in international media, and in this article. Claiming that such accounts seek to sanitize Mugabe’s regime is ill-founded, at least in the case of Scoones et al’s book. Zimbabwe’s–or Kenya’s, Botswana’s, or South Africa’s–land politics are inherently complex and contentious. Your portrayal of the matter within this post oversimplifies and generalizes this discussion, and hence does not serve the matter well in my opinion.

    For instance, your claims about the issues borne out of the land reform appear to suggest issues within Zimbabwe were not rampant prior to land reform, which is an equally problematic assertion. Much of this depends on the context within which one reads into the claims or assertions of another. Again, I do not believe that these authors are seeking to accredit Mugabe’s regime, but attempt to illustrate the positive effects of landownership for rural smallholder farmers. Now, you may contend that it is impossible to detach such changes from their macroeconomic context, but a number of these farmers prospered via the creation of cooperatives and other innovations rather than aid from government extension workers.

    Also, speculative questions such as “at what cost” could equally be leveled regarding the maintenance of previous highly unequal and exploitative systems derived from the colonial system or the impact of sanctions and embargoes leveled at the regime, but disproportionately impacting those whose livelihoods were most insecure to begin with. What are the costs of such political statements, for instance? Positives derived from empirical academic studies do not deserve to be merely discarded as attempts at sanitizing Mugabe’s despotic rule, but can prove informative for those seeking to change the situation for those most in need. In fact, the politicization of such publications could serve to further impact those most insecure and disadvantaged.

    Needless to say, Mugabe’s regime has significantly disadvantaged its own people, and the initiation of FTLRP in 2000 was arguably inherently a political one aimed at the retention of power through rural support. Many beneficiaries were political cronies who took advantage of patronage networks, but this isn’t the entire story, as publications such as these allude to. Dismissive generalizations regarding the impacts of landownership on the livelihoods of smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe due to the political context within which it was granted does not serve to complicate our understanding of the situation in Zimbabwe. Publications such as these attempt to contribute to a more informed discussion of the situation in Zimbabwe. Human rights violations, violence, starvation and political suppression are not entirely indicative of the situation in Zimbabwe, and it is important to be reminded of this, since most mainstream portrayals of the country won’t acknowledge this.

    Although journalistic accounts of African affairs often suffer from the necessary simplicity that is commonplace in contemporary media (particularly relating to Africa), I do not believe this website’s content should adhere to such standards. In fact, I’d like to view it as a forum of discussion that disposes of such constraints, and I don’t believe that everything claimed within this post adheres to that standard.

  2. Firstly, not all farms grabbed were from the colonial age. Some were bought after independence with State approval and then grabbed purely because the owners were white.
    Secondly, and most importantly, all at what cost? Does anyone gve those farmers that were murdered a thought? Does anyone give those that were left homeless and penniless a thought?
    Lastly, are the authors claimimg that the end justified the means?
    If so, that means that I can go shoot the son-of-a-bitch Englishman that murdered my Scottish ancestors and stole their land and still occupy it, or even a better still, take that buch of inbreds that call themselves royalty out and take back Edinburgh castle.
    Nothing can justify the wanton murder of humans and animals, remember, even the farmers’ dogs were slaughtered. If the authors can justify what happened in Zim then Al Queda can justify what they do, remember 7/7?

  3. It is encouraging to see an academic book provoking discussion. Too frequently, academic publications are only discussed among a very small circle, and read by very few people. My main question in response to your article would be: would any land reform be ‘good’ for all parties? A ‘proper’ process of land reform would probably never have happened as Zimbabwe would not have the funds to offer ‘proper’ compensation to farmers. My problem is the kind of discourse around ‘organised land reform’ that parties like DfID were promoting. Clearly, there are resource constraints on Zimbabwe’s part. To a certain extent, land reform had to be chaotic and disorganised. Otherwise, it would never have happened.. Yes, fast track land reform has come at a cost but would land reform ever have happened otherwise?

  4. What on earth is this article? If you have respect for your profession as a journalist, you either respect factual information or you don’t. Just because you don’t like Mugabe or because you symnpathise with white farmers who speak in pretty english–like accents ought to be no excuse for this sorry excuse of an article. And not a single mention of Western embargoes against Zimbabwe.

    And this blog is suppose to be see something different from the typical rubbish that passes for News in the Western media when it comes to Africa.

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